by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Akudama Drive ?
Akudama Drive understands that you simply cannot have a sci-fi anime climax without a little sprinkle of human instrumentality seasoning. Its penultimate episode proves that it's still determined to swerve from one wild idea and/or setpiece to the next, and if anything, whittling its cast down has only accelerated its journey. It's a left-field development in no uncertain terms, but nevertheless, it feels in sync with Akudama Drive's tone and thematic ambitions to date. I really hate to type “somehow, it works!” yet again, but somehow it does indeed work. There's some mad alchemy going on behind the scenes, and I'm enjoying the hell out of the ensuing spectacle in front.
The big twist is that, after all the runtime spent building up the mythos and mystery behind Kanto, Akudama Drive finally shows us the man behind the curtain—only in this case it's many men and they're all inside a quantum supercomputer. The war must have hit Kanto at least as hard as it did Kansai, as it has now been converted to a weird floating singularity of fragmented Tokyo landmarks. It's uncanny on a guttural level—looking and feeling like it shouldn't be a physical location on this planet—and that's what makes it such a good setpiece. Cyberpunk locales still tend to be stuck in the regressive neon-tinged vision of the mainstream eighties—a dystopia informed by (instead of critiquing) classism and racism. Kanto is thus, in my estimation, a much better extrapolation of a cyberpunk future, embodying the cold, broken, and inhuman vision of contemporary tech leaders. I mean, how much of a jump is there from Peter Thiel wanting to inject teen blood into his veins, to billionaires wanting to upload their brains into the immortal bodies of manufactured children? If they could do it already, they would.
It's important, too, that Brother and Sister are children. On a narrative level, naturally it makes them all the more sympathetic and makes our heroes' plight all the easier to root for. But thematically, it's even more incisive. I was raised under the general impression that each subsequent generation had it easier than the last, and beyond that, it was the duty of the older generation to make the world a better place for its children. I can't pinpoint when or where I learned that; it was just something that seemed self-evident. Of course, it's extremely not, and everything since the 2008 financial crisis has only cemented in my mind how much younger generations are getting hung out to dry. In the most general sense, society is failing our children and saddling them with problems and disasters our present leaders will be too rich or too dead to care about. It's no coincidence, then, that some of my favorite art from the past decade (I'm thinking especially of Penguindrum) has dealt with children bearing this weight through solidarity. That's why Sister fought so hard to be reunited with Brother. They might have been born and bred only to be vessels for Kanto, but together they can be much more than that. They can be people.
Solidarity is also what binds Swindler and Courier together, although their brainwashing session shows just how ephemeral these connections can be. All it would have taken for Swindler to stay in her normal, boring 9-to-5 life was to ignore a dropped 500 yen piece. Courier's situation is understandably a lot more complicated, so we don't get as firm a handle on it, but he too could have had a pleasant life with his guardian in some far-flung alternate reality. It's also no accident that both of their cases revolve around a meager sum of money that nevertheless symbolizes the debts that pulled them into this situation in the first place. While there's a tragic sense of a happy future unfulfilled, it's somehow even more tragic to consider the two of them living peacefully within the bounds of an oppressive stratified society dictated by a floating tesseract. To that end, thankfully, Hacker is also there to help them fight the power.
I knew he had to show up again eventually, and I knew he was keeping an eye on things through his special sphere robot, but sadly I did not call that Hacker had become a bunch of ones and zeroes since last we parted ways. However, given Kodaka's past propensity for digitized allies and heroes in the Danganronpa universe, I can't say I was caught off guard. It's a shame he doesn't get to do much besides deliver some exposition and then act out his grand heroic sacrifice, but at least Akudama Drive turns it into a messy technicolor spectacle. I also love the poetic irony of all of Brother and Sister's discarded brothers and sisters banding together to take down Kanto themselves. It doesn't have to make logical sense when the emotional and thematic endpoints have this much pageantry. That kind of understanding is what makes Akudama Drive such a treat to follow.
It's also funny to consider how weird and abstract this episode becomes after its brutally concrete and bleak opening. It's basically an opportunity for Akudama Drive to recapitulate last week's messages about police brutality and authoritarian suppression, in case any audience members weren't paying attention, or were trying to remain willfully ignorant. The horrific spectacle of thousands of state-sanctioned executions is weighed with heavy irony against the Executioner Pupil's blithe explanation, and the Boss' glee at getting back into Kanto's good graces. The specific choice of words, that the rioters “caused damage” and thus brought this upon themselves, perfectly echoes mainstream discourse that treats property damage as more heinous than a police force that wantonly murders its citizens. An orphaned child is callously ripped away from the bodies of her parents while the authorities express relief that “peace” was maintained. The Akudama didn't do this. Only the Executioners could.
With our small surviving crime family unit finally reunited, this episode easily could have functioned as Akudama Drive's surprisingly upbeat grand finale. However, we have one more episode to go, and I can't say I foresee the body count remaining static. Besides that, I have no freaking idea what to expect from the conclusion to Akudama Drive, but if it can stick the landing, it's going to become one of the easiest recommendations I have for anime fans fresh and veteran alike. The strong aesthetic, eccentric characters, fun setpieces, and good politics all coalesce into one of the best shows I've watched this year. And beyond that, it also understands that the best final episode title is always going to be the show title. I'll be sad to have to get off this ride, but at least I don't foresee it running out of gas in the home stretch.
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